Cool Store: Oerth Gallery

Usually the word "gallery" brings up images of a small, quiet storefront with lots of space, high-priced art on the wall and a not-so-friendly gallery staff. But Oerth, a gallery in Old Town Alexandria, is so different. Painted on the outside in wild colors of yellow, blue and pink, the gallery features very affordable original art, mostly by local artists, as well as cool, funky gifts, many of them handmade.

The gallery was opened last July 4 by sisters Lorraine and Linda Oerth. The idea was mostly the brainchild of Lorraine, who was a Torpedo Factory artist, focused on ceramics. But feeling trapped in that medium by the rules of the art center, Oerth thought she would be able to explore other types of art by opening her own gallery. She spent two years looking for the space at 420 S. Washington St.

"I really felt the clock ticking and I needed to spread my wings," says Lorraine. "I also wanted to create the type of store where I wanted to shop."

The inventory comes from artists from all over the country through shopping expeditions taken by the two sisters. Many of the items are under $100 and include everything from clocks and wind chimes to decorative plates and jewelry.

The bottom floor of the gallery, which stretches across three small rooms, had rock soap made by a geologist -- that truly looked like pieces of polished rocks -- for $10, wind chimes made from colored glass and drift wood found on the coastline of Washington State for $24, hand-blown glass goblets made by a West Virginia artist for $30 and handmade pottery from an artist in Westchester, Penn., for $35 on up. You can also find clocks ranging from $35 to $100, Adajio jewelry made by Colorado artists for $16 to $18, solar-powered indoor wind chimes for $53 and all-natural candles for $25.

"We pay a tremendous amount for freight but it's worth it because the items are unique," Lorraine says. "Staying away from 'Made in China' was a decision that we stick to."

The top floor of the gallery features more art, mostly from local talents like Sheep Jones and Marsha Staiger. Paintings, sculptures and collages range in price from $200 to $800 with the exception of a large Staiger canvas for $3,800. Lorraine, who teaches classes at the Art League, has brought in student artwork to put on display. She's also made a few creative discoveries like the work of Carlos Beltran Baldiviezo, a former Art League student who creates ceramic sculptures. He's now a resident artist at the league. Oerth also offers short "get in, get out" classes every Saturday at the gallery on painting, watercolor and collage.

Lorraine even has her own work on display in the form of decorative ceramics, as well as a floor mosaic covering one of the rooms of the gallery. Even if you're not in a buying mood, the floor in the back room of the gallery is worth a visit.

Have you been to Oerth Gallery? If so, what did you think? Do you know any other cool local stores? Where else can you get the work of local artists? Post a comment below.

Now looking to the future, has anyone ever rented something unusual? I've heard of people renting expensive handbags and jewelry. What else can you rent besides the latest DVD? Please let me know by writing to me at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  May 1, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Cool Store Alerts
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